The Roundup -

By Tim Fine 

Water Conservation In The Landscape


Before beginning this article, I should mention that a majority of the information contained within comes from MontGuide number MT198915AG titled Yard and Garden Water Management, and can be found by going to, or if you prefer, give the Extension Office a call and we would be happy to print and send or fax a copy to you.

Our lack of moisture this Spring has raised a great deal of concern in regards to what to plant, and when to water what is already established. There is an entire industry built around the concept of “xeriscaping”, which is essentially designing your landscape so that it uses water as efficiently as possible while still being an attractive landscape that a person can be proud of. While my intention is not to discuss the concept of xeriscaping at length, I would encourage you to learn more about the practice and, if you are concerned about water use, implement some of the practices that are outlined in the xeriscaping plan.

For those who are looking at doing some landscaping and are wanting to plant some plants that are considered “drought tolerant” and may not need as much water as typical landscape plants, my suggestion is to go out into nature and see what is growing well. While this does not include a list of specific plants, typically plants that are native to Eastern Montana and Western North Dakota are able to adapt to a variety of conditions, including lack of water. Also, plants that are typically found in prairie settings, an example would be coneflowers, are deeper-rooted plants that do not show as much stress when water is less abundant.

When considering when and how much to water your lawn and/or garden, here are a few things to keep in mind:

Whenever possible water in the morning if you are using a sprinkler or overhead watering with a hose and water in the evening if you are using soaker hoses or drip irrigation. Watering in the heat of the day not only causes loss of water due to evaporation, but you actually increase plant and soil absorption rates by following this practice.

Eliminate weeds!! Not only do weeds make the landscape look bad but they rob your desired plants of water and nutrients.

Infrequent, deep watering is much better than frequent shallow watering. In general, lawns and landscape plants need 1-2 inches of water every 3-5 days and gardens should be soaked so that the water goes down 6-12 inches into the soil and then not watered again until the top few inches dry out.

Know how much water you are applying. The easiest way to do this if you are using a sprinkler is to set some tuna cans in your yard. Turn the water on and let it run until there is an inch of water in the tuna can. The amount of time that it takes to fill the can with one inch of water is the amount of time you should run your sprinkler to apply 1 inch of water to your plants.

DON’T WATER YOUR HOUSE, GARAGE, DRIVEWAY, and/or SIDEWALKS- Probably the biggest waste of water is done by sprinklers that are set too close to structures. If there is a steady stream of water running down the sidewalk or into the street then that is water that is getting wasted. Set your sprinklers so that a majority of the water coming out of them is actually landing on something that will grow and needs the water.

Of all of the tips listed above, the last one is probably the most important, and especially if the weather conditions do not change. One other tip that I will pass along is that it is o.k. to not water your lawn if it is a Kentucky bluegrass lawn. It will not necessarily look the best as it will be brown but it probably is not dead. Kentucky bluegrass has the ability to go dormant as a defense mechanism. This means that the plant will shut itself down in order to save itself rather than use up all of its nutrients and reserves and die out. The question you need to ask yourself is whether or not you can live with a brown lawn until some moisture does return or not.

If you have questions about this or any topic related to home horticulture, feel free to give me a call at 433-1206 or send an email to


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